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Tottenham Boss Mauricio Pochettino's Key Decisions Ahead of 2016-17 Season

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2016

Talking to young and old(er) in his Tottenham Hotspur squad during pre-season, whom does Mauricio Pochettino have in mind to start for the team this season?
Talking to young and old(er) in his Tottenham Hotspur squad during pre-season, whom does Mauricio Pochettino have in mind to start for the team this season?Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino was back at work at the club's training ground by mid-June.

The recently concluded campaign's 5-1 final-day defeat to Newcastle United will have hastened his desire to return. Given his all-consuming passion for his craft, you suspect he would have been back preparing for the 2016-17 season soon enough regardless.

The best part of a summer's worth of preparations will start to be unveiled, beginning with Saturday's visit to Everton. Some of the key decisions relating to the Tottenham team this season will take a little longer to be made apparent, though.

Beginning at the back of the team, moving up through the positions and via more general strategic issues, Bleacher Report takes a look at the key choices Pochettino will be making.

Some are more straightforward than others but no less important in shaping the direction of this team. Even then, Spurs' 2015-16 campaign showed precedent can only so long resist being made irrelevant by an unpredictable future (for example, the fall of Nabil Bentaleb giving way to the resurgence of Mousa Dembele).

    

Who Is Lloris' Cover?

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With Hugo Lloris the first choice between the sticks, it is between Luke McGee and Michel Vorm to battle it out to be his back-up.
With Hugo Lloris the first choice between the sticks, it is between Luke McGee and Michel Vorm to battle it out to be his back-up.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

For Tottenham fans, this summer has been pleasingly devoid of worrying speculation over goalkeeper Hugo Lloris' future.

Unlike in 2015, the preoccupation of European Championship participation and the more satisfying situation he finds himself in at Spurs has ensured scuttlebutt has been thin on the ground.

After the disappointment of his France side losing the Euro 2016 final to Portugal, Lloris will be keen to enjoy some success in the day job. Barring a surprising change of opinion, Pochettino will likely hand him the first-choice goalkeeper spot and captaincy once more.

Michel Vorm's starting role in Spurs' overseas pre-season outings suggests the more experienced man remains next in line ahead of Luke McGee. The Netherlands international is seemingly content to play back-up to Lloris and try to make the best of his chances when they do come.

     

Fighting It Out at Full-Back

Kieran Trippier will hope to convince Pochettino he can be a regular starter at right-back this season.
Kieran Trippier will hope to convince Pochettino he can be a regular starter at right-back this season.Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Flying up and down the flanks, charged with providing width and strategic bombardment of the enemy while also protecting their own base, the play of Tottenham's full-backs has become one of the most distinct features of Pochettino’s team.

The first men up here for the majority of last season were Danny Rose and Kyle Walker at left- and right-back respectively. Alternating with them periodically were Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier.

At least to begin with, Rose and Walker's places should be theirs to lose. Their understanding with Spurs' centre-backs is more firmly established, and they are more balanced full-backs than their respective counterparts.

Davies and Trippier will count on inevitable rotation and fitness-related opportunities to stake claims for more substantial roles.

The Welshman is coming off a fine Euro 2016 with Wales, and while deployed more centrally there, he could channel that into more consistently confident performances. As for Trippier, Pochettino will have taken note of the good guiding and covering work he did in the International Champions Cup beside the young centre-backs deployed.

Should Rose or Walker suffer a loss of form, they should be even better prepared than last season to come in and make their boss think twice about dropping them again.

Also possibly in the mix this season is DeAndre Yedlin. Speculation over a permanent move to Sunderland, following his successful loan there last season, persists—Chronicle Live's Steve Brown raised the prospect after the American was left behind for Spurs' recent game against Internazionale—but if he is still in town come the start of September, he may yet work his way into contention.

     

Is Carter-Vickers a Contender at Centre-Back?

Assertive and increasingly confident, Cameron Carter-Vickers has made the most of pre-season opportunities and could be rewarded with more substantial playing time.
Assertive and increasingly confident, Cameron Carter-Vickers has made the most of pre-season opportunities and could be rewarded with more substantial playing time.SAEED KHAN/Getty Images

Pochettino's interest in Cameron Carter-Vickers as a potential part of his first-team squad has been apparent for some time. The centre-back was a regular around it throughout last season, not yet ready for full inclusion but kept close to at least garner some experience.

Encouraging performances throughout the summer have raised the prospect of the 19-year-old earning his first real senior minutes. His deployment on the right of central defence suggested Pochettino has it in his mind to at least try him as an alternative to Toby Alderweireld.

There is, of course, a substantial difference in energy and quality between pre-season and the real thing. But with Jan Vertonghen a doubt for the start of the season, it only takes someone else getting injured before Carter-Vickers could find himself called upon.

With everyone available, it is hard to look past Pochettino continuing with Alderweireld and Vertonghen as his main men at centre-back. Up until the latter’s injury in January, the pair were rarely split apart last season.

Kevin Wimmer's good work as cover certainly raised his stock and will keep fellow left-sided central defender Vertonghen on his toes. But as with the positions already covered in this article so far, the roles will be their incumbents' to lose.

     

Central Midfield and the Dembele Suspension Factor

Victor Wanyama's arrival has given Pochettino even more leeway in his midfield selections.
Victor Wanyama's arrival has given Pochettino even more leeway in his midfield selections.Scott Barbour/Getty Images

As referenced earlier, Bentaleb's gradual comedown from the burgeoning midfield talent Tottenham were delighted to tie down to a new contract to a player whose days in north London are numbered shows little is guaranteed in football.

We have just spent the last few paragraphs talking about four specific centre-back options. But what if Pochettino decides he wants the versatile Eric Dier back at the heart of his defence again? The manager's belief in the 22-year-old's adaptability has been a fixture of discussions around him almost since he arrived in August 2014.

The signing of Victor Wanyama from Southampton has given Pochettino greater licence to make that change. The Kenyan can slot in and give the defence a similar level of protection they felt others could not so effectively provide in place of Dier last season.

On paper, you would not look past the reuniting of Dier and Dembele. The two were integral to Spurs' title challenge last season, their smart forcefulness arguably defining the team's aggressive style more than anyone in the team.

With Dembele still to serve four games of a six-match suspension, though, Pochettino's hand will at least initially be forced.

Wanyama could step in here too. He is not as dynamic as Dembele but is far from being just a midfield enforcer.

Ryan Mason's latter pre-season performances have been more akin to those of the determined midfielder who did so well up until fitness issues derailed him. Tom Carroll's retention is a sign of Pochettino's belief in his ability to dictate things from the position, while the eager Harry Winks could be set for his first crack at Premier League football.

A good run in the team early in the season could see one of these players displace Dembele as a midfield fixture. Bentaleb's situation shows nobody can be complacent.

     

As You Were in Attacking Midfield?

Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela backed up Harry Kane superbly last season and could be set to do so again.
Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela backed up Harry Kane superbly last season and could be set to do so again.Matt Dunham/Associated Press/Associated Press

The other significant option in central midfield is Dele Alli.

The first substantial proof of his Premier League capabilities came playing in the position in early autumn last season. In the absence of Dembele, he is Tottenham's most well-rounded midfielder. Pochettino could opt to use him there as a temporary fix.

One way or another, the Argentinian has a lot to think about when it comes to Alli's more regular area of attacking midfield.

Presuming Spurs are going to continue playing 4-2-3-1 (they have played that way on tour this summer, bar one notable exception we will get to soon), the trio of Alli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela remains an impressive hand to play.

Lamela's eye-catching, confident pre-season form has hinted at a player coming into his own as a major influence in the team's attacking work. Eriksen has been a little quieter, but his excellent production over the last three seasons will not quickly be forgotten.

In between, and in conjunction with the nominal wide men, Alli is a force of nature, at least so far as the Premier League. How the 20-year-old fares testing himself against Champions League opposition will be one of the key storylines at Spurs this season.

These three finding an extra level together and individually will just about guarantee them continued prominence. But Pochettino does have options elsewhere for moments when something different is required.

Not part of Spurs' travelling party for the Inter Milan game, Nacer Chadli's time at Spurs looks to be over. Heung Min-Son and Josh Onomah could be the two who benefit from this, with the latter perhaps getting a head start with the South Korean playing at the Olympic Games.

The conclusion of the protracted pursuit of Olympique de Marseille winger Georges-Kevin N'Koudou (with Clinton Njie going the other way)—reported by Sky Sports' Lyall Thomas to still be in the offing—would also add to Spurs' scope for playing a more expansive and devastating front-foot game.

     

Double Trouble

Tottenham Hotspur @SpursOfficial

What did Vincent Janssen make of playing alongside @HKane for the first time? #COYS https://t.co/TJ1dszIhEy

One factor that could force one of Alli, Eriksen or Lamela to miss out, or at least see their assignment readjusted, is the potential pairing of Harry Kane and Vincent Janssen up front.

Kane has led the line for Tottenham with aplomb for the past two seasons. Just knowing he has a back-up who will provide a similar selflessness that also does not detract from his instincts will be a comforting improvement for Pochettino.

Janssen has work to do to prove he can translate his scoring touch from the Eredivisie to the Premier League, but the determination of his play in pre-season bodes well.

Spurs' final warm-up match, the 6-1 win over Inter on Friday, firmly raised the idea of the Dutchman and Kane playing together.

The England international played in a deeper role while Janssen focused on engaging the Nerazzurri defence further forward. Though not combining much specifically, neither suffered for the other wanting service from his team-mates. And they created space just through their mere presence.

In his first year in charge, 2014-15, Pochettino toyed with Kane playing off Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado. He did well enough, but the feeling remained using him further away from goal minimised his ability to influence games (a notion backed up by the scoring run he went on when restored as the main man).

That may not be the case this time.

Kane is an even better play than he was then. Spurs are a more rounded team. Janssen is a tougher centre-forward than both Adebayor and Soldado too, and he may well occupy the opposition more effectively, bringing Kane into the game more than his comparatively passive former team-mates did.

A Kane-Janssen partnership would mean someone further back making way. The likely solution or course of action is that, its effectiveness in proper competition depending, Pochettino will deploy it for specific opposition and situations.

    

Further Storylines

Will Shayon Harrison and others from the Tottenham academy continue to be part of Pochettino's plans as the club's ambition continues to grow?
Will Shayon Harrison and others from the Tottenham academy continue to be part of Pochettino's plans as the club's ambition continues to grow?Jack Thomas/Getty Images

Rotation and youngsters have been themes throughout the discussions of these positions.

Beyond specific decisions over who is playing better, the former will come into play just through the need to rest players if Tottenham progress in at least a couple of the competitions they will be engaged in. With first-choice players likely to play more frequently in the Champions League than they did in the Europa League, it will influence what Pochettino does elsewhere.

Carter-Vickers, Onomah and Winks seem the most likely academy candidates to get some serious playing time this season. But it will be fascinating to see whether others involved in pre-season, such as Marcus Edwards, Shayon Harrison and Anton Walkes, can get in the picture too given what could become a particularly demanding schedule.

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